Students beware

Is this a recommendation for Obama’s education advisor?

Darling-Hammond, a teacher-friendly educator, has been tapped by President-elect Barack Obama to head his transition team on education policy.

I thought education was supposed to benefit the children.

I’m feeling a little sour on the subject right now because I went to the elementary school science fair yesterday.  What was fascinating was the it more closely resembled a craft fair.  The kids had clearly done a lot of work, but they knew nothing.

They’d been given little motors and had stuck them in shoe boxes and added whirligigs that spun around madly, but they had no idea, even at a basic level, how a motor worked.  They’d been given magnets and had built little soccer fields where magnets dragged players down, but they had no idea, even at a basic level, how magnetism worked.  They’d been given rocks, and had all sorts of implements for conducting scratch tests, but they had no idea what the scratch tests demonstrated about the rocks’ composition.

They’d all worked incredibly hard and learned nothing.  This was no a lack of effort.  There was, instead, a complete lack of thought — thought at the curriculum level.  I’m quite sure that Darling-Hammond will encourage this kind of time-wasting, because she strikes me as that kind of “educator.”

The only solace is that, when the kids in my community hit middle school, then they actually start learning — and learning well.  I just have to be patient.

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  • iconoclast

    Almost everything in education seems to be turning into “arts ‘n crafts.” I’ve even heard of Ivy League law classes in which POSTERS had to be made.

    This probably has something to do with the increasing influence of women in the educational system, at all levels. Not saying all women are like this, or even most, but in general they seem more fond of scissors and glue than guys are.

  • Danny Lemieux

    “The only solace is that, when the kids in my community hit middle school, then they actually start learning — and learning well.”

    We can only hope, Book. Hope and change!

  • eli

    Have your kids try “Odyssey of the Mind” where they learn creative problem solving in a teamwork framework. They can choose from a variety of problems (that are different every year), a vehicle problem, a balsa structure problem, a technical problem and a couple of performance problems—

    My son has done the balsa problem for years and eventually figured out over the course of 5 years how to build an 8 inch, 15 g balsa/glue structure that could hold 1000 pounds. In Odyssey the adults aren’t allowed to do the work as the coaching follows the Socratic method of questioning; all the ideas and the work has to come from the kids. And they have to explain their thinking and decisions to the adult judges at the competition. It’s amazing what kids can create when the adults get out of the way. Now he’s going to learn about structural engineering with steel and concrete in college.

  • Bonzo

    Bookworm you have it all wrong. You confuse up with down.

    Student ability is partly due to the school, however I know a great deal of individual achievement comes from unmeasurable aspects outside of school. Home (read parents) and friends (read neighborhood friends) come to mind right away.

    Schools reflect their communities. Dysfunctional schools may have better/worse teachers than ‘great’ schools, we don’t know because schools mirror communities. I believe lousy teachers do better in ‘great’ schools because good students mask bad teaching. The opposite is not true– lousy parents who move to ‘good’ school districts prolly end up with mirrors of themselves.

    Suggestion for anyone here with 4th grade or older kids– have them 1. Name 7 of the 10 commandments, 2. Name any 7 amendments to the Constitution. 3. Write a 2 page essay on anything. 4. Discuss the good and bad of solar powered flashlights. I hope I’m not coming across as rude because that is not my intent.

    If the kids fail the above who should eat the most crow?

    Bookworm things go downhill faster in ‘Middle’ School. Private schools and home schooling work because ‘good’ parents self select.

  • Bonzo

    Let me continue. Leftists kind of understand the above which is why they sought to move poor inner city students into more successful suburban schools. That can work only if the ‘good’ school — mirroring a more normal community — is not overwhelmed. In any dysfunctional community the smart people vote with there feet and leave, making said place even more desolate.

    Successful kids need successful families and communities. We all know that.

    Have your spouse and kids take the quiz.

  • SJBill

    Dear Bookie,

    I agree with Bonzo, and you can probably have guess my response —

    Home school your children.

    At home, with the inquisitive student and parent, nearly every event can become a physics lesson, down to the boiling of an egg.

  • Mike Devx

    I agree with Book, and in fact with all commenters above.

    Richard Feynman is an innately smart man, but take a look at his early childhood training at the hands of his father. Now there was a smart educator (“educator” when he was in the mode of instructing and enlightening his son). Here is the link. It’s the first of a five part interview (I think) of Feynman. Most of this part concerns his father.

    There is no substitute for wisdom. What Feynman’s father did is precisely what the teachers of the elementary school science fair students aren’t doing.

  • Ellie2

    I just heard an interview with the author of The Trouble with Textbooks, a book citing religious and historical distortions in textbooks. If I had children of school age, I’d would look into this.

    Cited at the website below:

    “Did you know that “there is no record of any important [early] Jewish contribution to the sciences?” (World Civilizations, Thomson Wadsworth). Or that “Christianity was started by a young Palestinian named Jesus?” (The World, Scott Foresman/Pearson).”

  • Tiresias

    I don’t know why this is hard:

    1) Obama owes the unions

    2) The teachers are all in one of two unions

    3) So inevitably he appoints a “teacher-friendly” (read as “union-friendly”) education advisor.

    This is about like saying “tomorrow morning the sun’ll be up” in the zero-surprise sweepstakes.

    (Guess what – nobody cares what the senate and congress do or say today: the UAW is going to be bailed out. He owes them WAY too much not to do it!)

  • Bonzo

    Stolen from a friend:

    A school in USA where a new Indian student named Chandrasekhar Subramanian entered the fourth grade…

    The teacher said, “Let’s begin by reviewing some American History. Who said ‘Give me Liberty or give me Death’?”

    She saw a sea of blank faces, except for Chandrasekhar, who had his hand up: “Patrick Henry, 1775,” he said.

    “Very good!”

    Who said “Government of the People, by the People, for the People, shall not perish from the Earth?”

    Again, no response except from Chandrasekhar. “Abraham Lincoln, 1863,” said Chandrasekhar.

    The teacher snapped at the class, “Class, you should be ashamed. Chandrasekhar, who is new to our country, knows more about its history than you do.”

    She heard a loud whisper: “F**k the Indians!”

    “Who said that?” she demanded. Chandrasekhar put his hand up. “General Custer, 1862.”

    At that point, a student in the back said, “I’m gonna puke.”

    The teacher glares around and asks “All right! Now, who said that?” Again, Chandrasekhar says, “George Bush to the Japanese Prime Minister, 1991.”

    Now furious, another student yells, “Oh yeah? Suck this!”

    Chandrasekhar jumps out of his chair waving his hand and shouts to the teacher, “Bill Clinton, to Monica Lewinsky, 1997!”

    Now with almost mob hysteria someone said “You little sh*t. If you say anything else, I’ll kill you.”

    Chandrasekhar frantically yells at the top of his voice, “Michael Jackson to the child witnesses testifying against him, 2004.”

    The teacher fainted.

    And as the class gathered around the teacher on the floor, someone said, “Oh sh*t, we’re screwed!”

    And Chandrasekhar said quietly, “I think it was the American people, November 4, 2008.”


    This humorous short is deep in many many ways. My experience is that many new immigrants to America are amazing students, citizens and workers. It also seems that the propensity towards being outstanding fades from generation to generation.

    The last line misses the point:
    “…And Chandrasekhar said quietly, “I think it was the American people, November 4, 2008.”

    You don’t have to swim faster than the shark, you only have to swim faster than your friend. The Dollar, the useless Dollar, is doing well, much better than the Euro.

    I’ve been told the Dollar might lose 90 percent of its value. You don’t have to swim faster than the shark, you only have to swim faster than your friend.